Man Getting Bell's Palsy After Both Pfizer COVID Vaccines May Be 'Coincidence'

A man who received the Pfizer COVID vaccine has experienced facial nerve issues after each of his two vaccine doses, in what is thought to be the first reported case of its type.

However, doctors could not determine whether the nerve issues, known as Bell's palsy, were caused by the vaccine doses.

And one medical statistician not involved in the case study has highlighted the possibility that both of the nerve episodes could have been a coincidence.

The case was reported in BMJ Case Reports on Monday. The authors wrote that nerve paralysis, or palsies, on one side of the face after each COVID vaccine dose were neither reported in any of the three vaccine trials, nor medical literature.

Bell's palsy is a condition where there is a sudden weakness of the facial muscles and is mostly temporary.

The report states that the unnamed man, aged 61, had no previous history of facial nerve palsy prior to having the Pfizer COVID vaccines. He did have a high BMI, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

About five hours after being given his first dose, the patient developed facial palsy with weakness on the right side of his face. He went to a hospital where doctors found he was unable to completely close one of his eyes.

However, scans were normal and his symptoms disappeared after a course of steroids.

The patient got his second Pfizer vaccine six weeks later, and developed another facial palsy two days after getting the shot.

Again he was prescribed a dose of steroid treatment. Upon review, he described the symptoms as being more severe than the first time, and said he experienced dribbling and had problems swallowing.

A couple of weeks later, the patient said his symptoms had almost gone. He was advised to discuss having future mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer shot with his doctor on a case-by-case basis to assess the potential risks versus the benefits.

Four cases of Bell's palsy of unknown cause were reported among Pfizer vaccine patients during the shot's phase 3 clinical trials, compared to zero among those who received a placebo, but these were only single episodes, according to the case report.

The report's authors write that the incidence of the two palsy cases so soon after each of the vaccine doses "strongly suggests that the Bell's palsy was attributed to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine." However, they also said they could not prove this was the case.

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University who was not involved in the study, highlighted the importance of a lack of a definitive cause in this case.

He said in a statement it is "a possibility" that the Bell's palsy episodes were caused by the vaccine but said: "Bell's palsy isn't all that rare a condition and it might be a very unfortunate coincidence that the patient had two episodes at those times.

"I think that a key point is that, even if the Bell's palsy in this one patient was caused by the vaccine, a single case report can't tell you anything about how likely Bell's palsy might be after vaccination."

The U.K.'s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on July 16 it is continuing to review reports of Bell's palsy after vaccination. It said the current number of reported cases is similar to the number that would have occurred naturally and "does not currently suggest an increased risk following the vaccines."

COVID vaccine
A nurse holds a COVID vaccine dose and syringe at a hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, December 2020. Doctors have said they could not confirm a causal link between a patient's Bell's palsy symptoms and both of his Pfizer COVID vaccine doses. Jeff J Mitchell/Pool / Getty